I’m a big fan of day trips. Whenever I’m visiting another country, I always research any interesting towns or attractions nearby that may be worth visiting. On a recent trip to Santiago, Chile, I wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day for a more laid back atmosphere. My husband and I recruited our local friends and decided to drive northwest from the capital to the coastal town of Viña del Mar.
Combined with its neighboring city of Valparaíso, the region makes up the third largest metropolitan area in the country. I heard good things about the city from every Chilean I talked to, all of which referred to it simply as “Viña.” The trip to the coast was full of winding roads that passed through mountains and by the numerous vineyards of the Casablanca Valley. We arrived after about an hour of driving and got settled into where we were staying. It was around lunch time and we’d had a long drive, so we went up a little north to the Reñaca neighborhood for lunch. Driving along the winding road that ran parallel to the Pacific brought not only views of the water, but also strolling vacationers, beachside food stands and surf shops. The cliffs that lined the coastal highway had restaurants, stores and apartments etched into the land, which was a cool sight to see. A long flight of stairs took us up to Punta del Este, a quaint restaurant across from the ocean. I knew that when in Viña I had to have seafood, so I wasted no time selecting things to try. I chose garlic shrimp and machas a la parmesana (razor clams with parmesan). I was super excited to see the ever-present pebre brought to the table. This salsa-like mix of peppers, onions, garlic and coriander is served with bread at every restaurant in Chile, and it quickly became one of my favorite things. My husband had one of his favorite things, locos, or abalone. Between the rest of the diners at the table, most of the major Chilean specialties were present, including ceviche, seafood empanadas and caldillo de congrio (conger eel soup).
After lunch we wanted to explore the city on foot. The pace here was a lot sl0wer. I noticed a lot of people walking leisurely on the streets, lingering in coffee shops and enjoying long lunches. We walked along the beach and got some great views of the historic Wulff Castle. It almost appeared to jut into the sea. The beach was empty, as the summer high season was over, so I was told it was not as lively as it usually is. After browsing some local shops, it was time to head back to get ready for dinner.
In typical South American fashion, the night started late. We arrived around 9:00 pm at Cap Ducal, a hotel and restaurant styled to look like an old ship, weathered exterior and all. The large windows allowed for great views of the water, and we were lucky enough to score one of the coveted tables near the windows. We ordered some Chilean wine and opted for more seafood. When in Rome, right?
A short walk across the street after dinner led us to Casino Viña del Mar. My husband knows that if there’s a casino nearby, I’m going to want to check it out. The interior, with its crystal chandeliers, was old school elegance. It was filled with the standard blackjack, roulette and slots, and the dress code seemed pretty fancy. Less than an hour was all we needed to lose money, so we left to go to the adjacent club, Ovo. After trying out another local bar and too many terremotos later, it was time to call it a night.
The next morning we were in need of breakfast, so we walked over to Amura Cafe, a cute cafe and bakery located withing walking distance of our condo. We filled up on espresso and breakfast pastries like croissants filled with manjar, Chile’s version of dulce de leche. It was soon time to head back to Santiago so we packed up and hit the road. Side note – gas stations are few and far between on the highway from Viña del Mar to Santiago. We were in a rush to get back to Santiago and almost ran out of gas! We managed to arrived safe and sound in Santiago, and it was off to the airport for our flight back to the U.S.